How to think, not what to think

Hera are a couple more bookmarks from Thomas Sowell’s Dismantling America.  First, Sowell suggests a response to folks who seem to believe they have a firm grasp of an issue (p.199):

Another approach might be to respond to the dogmatic certainty of some young person, perhaps your own offspring, by asking, “Have you ever read a single book on the other side of that issue?”

When the inevitable answer to your question is “No,” you can simply point out how illogical it is to be so certain about anything when you have heard only one side of the story–no matter how often you have heard that one side repeated.

Would it make sense for a jury to reach a verdict after having heard only the prosecution’s case, or only the defense attorney’s case, but not both?

It would also be useful to be ready to recommend good books on the other side of the issue if they happen to want to take your advice.

Here’s another good one (p. 235):

It was once the proud declaration of many educators that “We are here to teach you how to think, now what to think.”  But far too many of our teachers and professors today are teaching their students what to think, about everything from global warming to the new trinity of “race, class and gender.”

Even if all the conclusions with which they indoctrinate their students were 100 percent correct, that would still not be equipping students with the mental skills to weigh opposing views for themselves, in order to be prepared for new and unforeseeable issues that will arise over their lifetimes, after they leave the schools and colleges.

Many of today’s “educators” not only supply students with the conclusions, they promote the idea that students should spring into action because of these prepackaged conclusions–in other words, vent their feelings and go galloping off on crusades, without either a knowledge of what is said by those on the other side or the intellectual discipline to know how to analyze opposing arguments.

A philosopher once said that the most important knowledge is knowledge of one’s own ignorance.  That is the knowledge that too many of our schools and colleges are failing to teach our young people.

I remember such activist assignments. It would have been helpful to have spent more time reviewing how we went about researching,  reasoning, editing and testing out our logic with others to gain practice on developing well-thought and articulated arguments rather than sending incoherent rantings.

I also remember some good assignments that did just that.

A business econ professor in grad school once gave an interesting assignment for the first day of class. He told us to prepare a 3 minute speech stating our position and rationale for our position regarding a specific hot topic (that he specified)  in news at the time.

We each got a chance to make our case and listen to each other.  The next week he gave us our grades and feedback.

Few people scored well. Most hadn’t researched or prepared.  They spoke from their emotions and repeated talking points from the media.  Most cases didn’t contain an ounce of logic and many had fallacies. The professor stepped through how he researched his position and bolstered it with logic and data.

My classmates were mad.  I think they were used to BS’ing their way through such assignments by repeating the politically correct, mainstream talking points.

While there was no right or wrong in regards to which position we took, there was in how well we constructed our arguments.

I still think of this as one of the most memorable and helpful assignments from my academic career.   And the fact that so few graduate level students, many with several years of work experience, didn’t do well helps corroborate what Sowell writes above.

My classmates continued to struggle through this gentleman’s course.  Some quit.  I enjoyed it and couldn’t figure out why so many people didn’t.  Now I think I know.  He was teaching us how to think, not what to think.  I don’t think my classmates were accustomed to that.

Random Thoughts from Thomas Sowell

I always enjoy Thomas Sowell’s Random Thoughts columns.  He put several pages of his random thoughts on the passing scene observations in his back of his book Dismantling America.  Here’s a few of my favorites.

One of the painful signs of years of dumbed-down education is how many people are unable to make a coherent argument.  They can vent their emotions, question other people’s motives, make bold assertions, repeat slogans–anything except reason.

Wal-Mart has done more for poor people than any ten liberals, almost nine of whom are almost guaranteed to hate Wal-Mart.

Many colleges claim that they develop “leaders.”  All too often, that means turning out graduates who cannot feel fulfilled unless they are telling other people what to do.  There are already too many people like that, and they are a menace to everyone else’s freedom.

For university presidents, as for politicians at all levels, one of the most valuable talents for the success of their careers is the ability to say things that make no sense, with a straight face and in a lofty tone.

Perhaps one of the scariest aspects of our times is how many people think in talking points, rather than in terms of real world consequences.

Some of the biggest cases of mistaken identity are among intellectuals who have trouble remembering that they are not God.

Some people are so busy being clever that they don’t have time enough to be wise.

Medical care v. Health care

Thomas Sowell’s book Dismantling America: and other controversial essays is a collection of Sowell’s weekly columns from the past few years.  It’s a great read, though I wish the publishers would have included the date each column was published for context.  Most I remember reading, but for those unfamiliar with Sowell’s weekly columns the dates might help.

All the essays are great.  Some are exceptional.  In one column, Sowell does an exceptional job at distinguishing health care from medical care (p. 56).

Insurance is not medical care.  Indeed, health care is not the same as medical care.  Countries with universal health care do not have more or better medical care.

Those who think in terms of talking points, instead of trying to understand realities, make much of the fact that some countries with government-controlled medical care have longer life expectancies than that in the United States.

That is where the difference between health care and medical care comes in.  Medical care is what doctors can do for you.  Health care includes what you do for yourself–such as diet, exercise and lifestyle.

If a doctor arrives on the scene to find you wiped out by a drug overdose or shot through the heart by some of your rougher companions, there may not be much that he can do except sign the death certificate.

Even for things that take longer to do you in–obesity, alcohol, cholesterol, tobacco–doctors can tell you what to do or not do, but whether you follow their advice or not is what determines the outcome.

Americans tend to be more obese, consume more drugs and have more homicides.  None of that is going to change with “universal health care” because it isn’t health care.  It’s medical care.

When it comes to things where medical care itself makes the biggest difference–cancer survival rates, for example–Americans do much better than people in most other countries.

No one who compares medical care in this country with medical care in other countries is likely to want to switch.  But those who cannot be bothered with the facts may help destroy the best medical care in the world by pursuing a political mirage.

People who present comparisons of life expectancies and infant mortality as evidence of the varying effectiveness of medical care (or even more general “health care”, which they mean to imply medical care) between countries baffle me.

To use these statistics alone assumes all else is equal.  But all else is not equal.

They don’t consider that differences in these statistics might be influenced by diet choices, exercise, number of miles driven each year (which increases chances of dying a car accident) and demographics.  For example, the U.S. is spread out geographically more than other countries and more people can afford to drive.  A result is more driving and more crashing for people in the U.S..

They also don’t consider that the methods of reporting deaths may differ by country, which might also contribute to some of the inter country differences in statistics.  For example, countries only count in the infant mortality rate those infants born after a certain week of gestation.  That week may vary from country to country.  In some countries it might be 32 weeks, for example, while in the U.S. it could be 26 weeks.  Babies born after 32 weeks have a higher rate of survival than those born after 26 weeks.  So, the real difference in infant mortality may exist only on paper.

Finally, they don’t consider the differences in effectiveness of the actual medical treatments, less wait times and more use of effective technology like MRIs.

These are big things not to consider and not considering these things doesn’t earn much credibility with me.